Northern Lights may be regular sight

Tue, Jan 24, 2012, 00:00

The likelihood of being able to catch the Northern Lights again in Ireland this week has dimmed, but the good news is they may be making a regular appearance over the next few years.

With mixed weather forecast for the coming days it is expected to be more difficult to see the colourful display, which has been lighting up the skies across the country this week.

The Northern Lights, which are also known as the Aurora Borealis, were witnessed by thousands of people along the north Donegal coast and in parts of Northern Ireland over the weekend and into the early hours of yesterday morning.

The chance of seeing the lights is better in areas where light pollution is low and clear skies are also a prerequisite. However, Met Éireann said today that with bad weather expected tonight in most parts of the country visibility will be low. The forecast for the next few days is also patchy with some clear spells but plenty of showers likely as well.

"There will be some opportunities to see the Northern Lights over the coming days but a mix of clouds and showers will affect visibility with most of the showers occurring in the northwestern area," said a spokeswoman for Met Éireann.

Auroras occur when ionised particles from the sun hit the earth’s atmosphere and react with the gases, in this case oxygen which gives off the red and green colours. Auroras are not usually seen as far south as Ireland, but two separate bursts have been seen here over the last few days following the biggest solar storms in over six years.

A hot cloud of high-energy gas called a coronal mass ejection (CME), which burst from the Sun recently and which was expected to hit earth today has led to concerns that planes, power grids and satellites could all be affected.

Astronomy Ireland advises those wishing to see the Aurora Borealis for themselves that the further north and away from city lights people are the better.

"What we actually have seen this week is two sets of Northern Lights which have occurred close together. If you are far enough north then there is a chance that you'll be able to see them in action again but the best views are usually in more northern countries such as Norway and Sweden," said Conor Farrell, project manager at Astronomy Ireland.

"If you are hoping to see the Northern Lights in Ireland just get a few minutes outside of town and the sky should be dark enough for them. While the lights usually look green and red, from here they may look more like a glowing white light to the naked eye because they are so feint," he added.

Mr Farrell said that while the Northern Lights haven't been seen regularly over the past few years, more solar activity is expected

"Over the last number of years the Sun has been very quiet and hasn't been throwing out much radioactive material but over the past year or two activity has picked up and this will continue over the next two to three years," he said.

*Have you any photographs from this weekend's Northern Lights display in Ireland? Email them to and we'll include them in our slideshow